Thursday, September 23, 2010

Odyssey Trail Running Rampage Marathon

Sept. 18th- Millboro, VA 

I know, I know…I said I wasn’t racing again until after Chicago. BUT, I wasn’t really racing today. I had wanted to do a solid long trail run this weekend anyhow, and after hearing about this race it seemed like a perfect fit. After consulting many of my running friends the consensus was fairly well split between “You’re screwing your chances at Chi-town” and “sure, why the heck not?”.  Normally I would agree that running a marathon 3 weeks before a scheduled marathon is a bad idea if the goal is to PR. Yet this year I found myself in a position where 26 miles is no longer very daunting to me (or my legs). I’ve already completed 7 marathons this year, some which were quite challenging (i.e. Leadville), and I’ve found that my recovery time is rapidly cutting down after each event. I’ve been hitting higher mileage in my training, and spending 4+ hours out on the trails on the weekend. For this reason, I felt confident that so long as I didn’t race the trail marathon, I would be fine to really push the pace in Chicago.

The Logistics: Worth mentioning because it was rather unconventional.

I signed up 3 days prior to the race knowing full well that I would be working until 10-10:30 pm on Friday night. The race was 3.5 hours away at a state park somewhere out west, so I either had to drive down after work or wake up at 2am. I was planning on sleeping in my car at the park, but Bryan had sense enough to talk me out of that idea. Luck would have it that 2 other runners from the area were also running the race and they offered me a bed in their hotel. I made it to the hotel shortly before 1am, and hit the pillow hard. Because the hotel was still 1.5 hours from the start, I was up at 5:30 to get on the roll. The night clerk at the front desk was nice enough to let me in early for the continental breakfast, so for the first time in many marathons, I had my bagel TOASTED. Oh yes, this is a big deal. Big enough, in fact, to mention in a blog. The hotel also served the same packets of peanut butter I ate in boot camp, but that might not warrant mention (too late). 

The drive to the start was absolutely beautiful. The sun was slowly waking in the horizon with about as much exuberance as I feel on Monday mornings.  As I passed through the mountains in Shenandoah there was a gently mist trickling through the valley, and I thought of the old classic song “Shenandoah” with the beautiful tenor medley. I think the song must’ve been composed at sunrise, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything so serene.

The Race:

I pull in to the state park and find the start area. The thermostat on my car reads 47 degrees. Hmmm…should’ve thought this one through. I was freezing in my shorts and Boston jacket. And let me tell you, nothing says “shmuck” more than someone who shows up to a trail race wearing a Boston Marathon jacket. Sadly, I didn’t have any other options.

As I went to pick up my bib I was amused to hear blue grass playing over the speakers and runners sleepily unzipping their tents and stumbling out to put their shoes on. I immediately decide that I’m coming back next year with my tent to really get the full experience. We gathered around for a pre-race brief shortly before the start, and I am impressed by how fit most people look. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill marathon with a large population of runners sporting the beer gut and donut butts. These people all looked like they could be runners. There were somewhere around 30ish runners there for the marathon. A bigger group had started 1.5 hours earlier to do 40 miles, and an even larger group would be starting 1.5 hours later to do the half marathon.
Lodging, start, and finish

I made a last minute decision to use my handheld instead of the camelbak, and stuffed my pockets with a couple of Gu’s. It was a 13.4mi loop course, so we’d be able to grab what we needed before our 2nd trip out.

Course Profile:
13.4 loop, run twice

We huddled around the start, but it was like an awkward first day of school where none of the kids wanted to be the first on the bus. Everyone stayed a good 10 feet back behind the line and showed no ambition for hoping to win the race.  The horn went off at 8:30 and we all made our way in a small pack through the woods. I was running with Jeff, one of the runners I stayed with at the hotel, and we chatted about the various races we’ve done. 

All the other runners were very quiet as we toed our way over the first few rock strewn portions and started the long, slow climb. The course profile showed the first 3 miles to be completely up hill, and I was fairly certain I’d be walking a lot of it. I found the grades to be not terribly steep, but it was just so long it was hard to maintain a running pace for very long. I ended up running until my breathing was labored, then I would slow to a walk. There were footsteps behind me, which I assumed belong to Jeff, but later realized it was a woman and I’d ditched Jeff in the first 2 miles. I am a terrible partner to run on trails with.
The woman and I ended up chatting most of the way up,  discussing races and future plans. She (Diane- D) is a tri coach from Virginia Beach, and she looked pretty intense. She was a solid brick of muscle, and I was curious to see how she would do over the long course. Right at about 3 miles we had our first tease of a downhill, and it was a doozy. The grade was fine, but it was at a near 45 degree angle on the side of the mountain. I had a really hard time balancing myself while running with my shoulder canting hard to the right, yet still picking up my feet over the rocks and roots on the trail. Right as I’m coming out of this tricky single track, I start to go down. My heart races wildly as I brace for impact, but something strange happens…my new trail shoes seemingly have self-corrective balancing skills. I find myself still on my feet, but running with my arms stretched out somewhat like Batman. Had I tripped there, it could’ve easily wiped me out for the day.

I hear D come up behind me, and she commented on how tough that little section was and that she ended up running off trail on one of the switchbacks. We finally come in to the first aid station at mile 3.5 where the poor volunteers had to hike all of the water and supplies up for us. I skipped refilling my bottle with the thought that if everyone refills at that aid station, there won’t be anything left on the 2nd loop.
Aid Station #1 (with a view)
D and I headed out of the aid station and start the beautiful trek down hill (err, down mountain?). The rocks aren’t bad enough to impact our stride, which is awesome. I had a nightmare flashback to Leadville where every step was sure to break an ankle. I fell in to stride behind her, and she asked if I wanted to pass. On any other day, I would have. Instead, I found myself comfortable keeping things dialed back.  My legs really wanted to take off, but I kept telling them to save it for Chi-Town. We caught up to a really tall bald guy and stayed behind him as the miles ticked by. D and I chatted incessantly, and at one point the bald guy finally spoke up and said “I don’t know how you ladies have the energy to talk so much while you’re running a marathon”. We giggled a little and tried to talk less, which resulted in more giggling and more talking. Oh well, we tried.
let the good times roll! (as long as it's downhill)

            I couldn’t believe how fast the miles ticked by coming downhill. Before we knew it we were up to 9, and the trail dumped out on to a nice, smooth, loose gravel road. It was also slightly downhill, and I could see the aid station up ahead. I allowed myself to pick it up a tad and push it in to the aid station. I was so happy and chatty I forgot I was supposed to hurry through and keep running. While I was cracking jokes with the aid station workers, D, Baldy, and another guy caught up to me and started filling their hydration packs. I realized my mistake because I was then stuck behind 3 camelbaks with only one cooler to fill, and I had a mere 20 oz bottle to top off. Dang it! I stood there and waited for everyone else to finish, and was the last person out of the aid station. I was mad at myself for not paying attention, and took off to catch the crew.
Aid station #2
It didn’t take too long to catch up, as we headed in to some uphill segments and they were walking a lot. I dropped in behind D, and she informed me we were following Baldy’s run/walk approach on the hills. I stuck with them for a couple of minutes, but I started to notice there were little hills for mountain bikers to jump over, and it was super fun to power through them.
            I left D and Baldy behind, and coasted for the next 2 miles. I felt a little off…light headed or something. I realized I should probably take a Gu at some point, but I held out for my PB&J at the transition area. I started to catch up to other runners, one by one. I passed a young kid sporting a Mohawk wearing bright purple shorts, who was looking less than stellar. He was bending over the side of the trail heaving, and I offered him some water and stopped for a second to make sure he was at least going to survive.  Before the race I overheard Mohawk talking to his goons (more young guys with a funny choice in clothing/hair styles) and he had said it was going to be tough for a first marathon, but he should be able to run a 3:30. I knew this was a horrible idea, as the men’s course record was a 3:5X. Sure enough, he was hurting.
More beautiful views...
After leaving Mohawk I caught up to another young guy who looked to be in pretty good shape. I joked that I’d see him when he caught me on the uphill, but that never happened. As I was rounding out the last mile on the first loop, I saw a guy barely off the trail peeing in the woods. There’s no way I’m going to stop running to let this guy finish his business, so I run by and yell “not looking!!”. He cursed, laughed, and apologized as he caught back up to me. I did most of the talking, and he did a great job of laughing at all of my super hilarious jokes. I noticed he was taking it really slow on the downhill though, and I opted to leave him behind. He was really strong on the climbs, but for some reason was pretty weak on the downhill.
            I came in to the finish/transition area, and everyone cheered me on. They said I was the first woman and in the top 3 overall. I didn’t realize there were so few people ahead of me! Must be a slow day. I grab my PB&J, put my camera away, and head off. D & Baldy are coming in to the aid station as I’m leaving, so we swap encouraging cheers to one another (though Baldy didn’t say anything, he still wasn’t much of a talker).
            The 2 young guys I had recently passed caught up to me in the transition area, so we started the 2nd climb together. Young guy #1 fell back, while young guy #2 (the pisser) set the pace up the hills. I soon fell back as my legs started protesting the climb. I didn’t think D would catch up to me, as she was bound to be suffering as much as me the 2nd time around. The pisser was long gone, and I was left to struggle on my own for the next 2.5 miles. I started to think I ran too much on the climbs the first time around, as this time it was insanely hard. I then realized my electrolyte level was probably pretty bad, since I’d downed around 60 oz of water and had taken no salt tabs or Gu. Oops…
Up, up, up we go
 I finally make it to the canted downhill portion that tripped me up last time, and went really slow to make sure my footing was ok. I made it safely in to the aid station, and greedily filled my handheld this time around. They had a plate of salt sitting on top, and I found myself dipping my finger in to get a little salt. I’d read about ultra runners eating packets of salt, but I never fathomed that I might be in this situation myself. It tasted awful, but I washed it down and headed out to tackle the rest of the course. I knew the hardest part was over, all I had to do was cruise to the finish. D came in to the aid station as I was on my way out, and I was amazed she was so close behind me. I don’t know why I was surprised though, I wasn’t going at break neck paces. I take off downhill and my legs immediately feel normal again. I’m having way too much fun hopping over rocks and all but skipping down the side of the mountain. D catches up to me before long, and I realize her massively muscular legs are no joke. We run together for about 2 miles again, though there’s less chatter this time around. I started to feel hot spots on the inside of my heels on both feet. Crap. The downhill was tearing my feet up.
Coach Diane

D falls back a little and I allow myself to pick up the pace. I catch up to the pisser, as he’s doing a terrible job of navigating the downhill sections. Low and behold, it’s his first trail race ever. No wonder. I’m no trail savant, but it took me a couple of tries to gain confidence with the downhill stuff. I leave him behind to pick his way carefully over the rocks, and head off on my own again.
I started feeling a little light headed again, and though perhaps it would be a brilliant time to take a Gu. A half of a PB&J and one Gu probably wasn’t enough for a long trail run, and I chided myself for not paying attention to fueling. Soon enough I hear footsteps behind me, and D has caught back up. I was super impressed with her stamina. She didn’t look tired at all. We hit the gravel again and I let it loose, but she passed me when I stopped to fill up at the aid station. It took me a little while longer to catch her this time around, but eventually on more of the uphill terrain she started walking more. As I passed her she picked the pace up and did a pretty good job of keeping up with me.

Soon I saw the 20 mile marker and decided it was time to have some fun. I let the hammer drop hard and pushed it in. I figured a final 10k kick was a great way to end a “training run”, I just hoped I hadn’t worked too hard the first 20 miles. Much to my surprise, the legs responded to what I was asking of them and off we went. I lost D pretty quickly and started picking off the half marathoners who had started at some point before we started our second loop. I saw a woman go down, and I stopped to help her up and make sure she was ok. It’s such an awkward thing to do, you never know if you should move on after you’ve helped them or stick around for a while. She seemed ok, so I took off. Now things really started getting fun. I was picking off the half marathoners left and right. For the most part, everyone was nice about moving off the trail so I could pass.

Around mile 23 I start to get excited about how good I’m feeling. I’m lost in my thoughts, and I suddenly hear a crashing sound through the woods. I hear a guy shouting frantically, and the ever-so-familiar sound of a large animal boring through the woods. I know it’s a dog, and he’s running away from his owner. Right when the crashing gets really loud and I can hear the panting, I turn around and am plowed over by a very, very excited Chesapeake Bay Retriever. To his credit, he tried to stop before hitting me but the poor guy was running downhill. We both went down gently, and he gave my face a good lick before bounding back to his owner, who was still nowhere in sight. I was more amused than anything by my encounter, and since neither of us was hurt in the incident I laughed it off. I’m just glad it happened to me and not to a runner who was afraid of dogs.
Lakeside trail
I really started to appreciate the loop factor in this run. I knew when the hills were coming, and I had a sense of confidence the second time around. I turned a bend around a lake that was all too tempting to jump in to, and knew that I was close to the finish. All I had to do was push it up one more climb, and then coast back down on the other side. I passed more half marathoners who were walking up the hill, and then let it rip when I passed over the peak of the hill. Because of all the hairpin turns, it was impossible to see very far ahead. I was rewarded by this when I came out of the woods and saw the finish line was less than 100m away. There were 2 guys just ahead of me who were finishing the half marathon, and I did my best to thrown down a strong final kick. I’ve always sucked at sprinting, and just about any guy can out run me for 100m or less. I passed one of the guys without a problem, but the 2nd guy put up a fight. He looked at me bib and asked what race I was running, and when I said “the marathon” he immediately backed off and let me finish ahead of him.
I came through the finish line and there were loud cheers by all of the people hanging around. The race director came over and shook my hand, excited to have a new course record for the female marathon. I immediately tear my shoes and socks off, and am horrified to see a giant blood blister on the inside of my right foot. I see the outline of a blister on my left foot, though it’s less minor than its counterpart.

I limp around the finish line area cheering D as she comes in, and head over to my gear to pound down my Gatorade recovery drink. I’m surprised that my legs aren’t pounding in the least, and I don’t feel tight or sore. If my feet were in better shape, I would be walking around without the slightest trace of a limp.
I hung out by the finish area for a couple of hours, talking to runners and just relaxing in the sunshine. I saw Mohawk come in at about the 6 hour mark, and I laughed when I overheard him talking to his goons. He told them he got really lost and went MILES off trail, and it took him 2 hours to find his way back. He’d have been much faster if they had marked the course better. There’s no WAY anyone got lost for 2 hours on that course, and he somehow neglected to tell his friends that he was near puking only 11 miles in to the race. What a schmuck.
Overall, this race was awesome. I can’t wait to run it again next year. I don’t know if I’ll be running the marathon or the 40 miler, but I look forward to spending some time in the woods again.


Finish time: 4:22:06 (new female record by 37 minutes)
Overall: 2nd (out of 31)
Gender: 1st (out of 9)

It’s a shame this race is so small, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. I’m hoping to get a group together to camp out next year, there’s a lot of potential for a really great weekend. 


  1. Awesome job, girl! You're the only person I know who can "not really race" and shatter the course record. And you still took time to get some nice photos.

  2. Wow Agile! What Ilana said! As usual great RR, very thorough! Race sounds amazing too! I might have to put that one on the calendar for next year if I can keep my running season going a little stronger through my biking season. I'm REALLY itching to start trail running again after all this focus on the bike.

  3. I never knew you were such a great writer!! So vivid...I LOVED IT!! I did, however, know that you are insanely awesome. I mean, no surprise there. SO PROUD OF YOU!!! Love and Miss you bunches!!

  4. Thanks for sharing the race report and congrats! Looks like yeat another amazing race.

    How's the blood blister doing?

  5. Great race; great race report. Funny bit about the dog. With such a great time and result, I think you did the right thing in deciding to run the race. You'll do great in Chi Town.

  6. Ilana- I would give up my course record to live in Durango :)

    KMAX- You have to do it next year! You can fake this marathon, just don't break anything on your bike. You're a lucky guy to be great at 2 sports!

    Brennan- I love you too, babe! You were there for the beginning of this nonsense, you know ;-)

    Silly- I'm happy to report that after popping the blister (which was quite gruesome and awesome...though the hubby had to leave the premise), I was able to run the next day with no issues! Phew~

    Bill- Thanks as always for the kind words!

  7. Girlfriend, is there nothing you can't do spectacularly? I'm so in awe of your talents and this was just another day in the life of Amazing Amy. Love the photos, too! Can't wait to see you today. :-)

  8. I really like your photos and descriptions. Ever read Bill Bryson's a Walk in the Woods...your entries remind me of that book and his writing style.

  9. I was NOT puking, and went miles off course. You must be confusing me with some other nattily attired young man.

    Another great race report - you almost make me want to give up pavement racing, but then I remember hills and the fact that trail races take so much longer to complete. Congrats on the win and OA place!


  10. Mohawk Guy- Thanks for stopping by and defending yourself, it is certainly within your rights.

    First of all, you're right, you were not looked to be in a fit of heaving and nausea (which is why I said heaving). Whatever happened to you at the end of the first loop, it wasn't pretty. (Do you remember drinking out of my water bottle?)

    Secondly, I will never believe that you went MILES off track. It wasn't possible on that trail. In reality, it took you 3 hours to finish the second loop because you ran way too hard in the first half.

    I apologize for calling you a "schmuck", that wasn't nice. I do consider it to be of schmucky behavior to blame your finishing time on an exaggeration of perhaps a small little detour. I simply made my comments as an observer and somewhat experienced marathon runner to the extent that I can tell when someone blows up after the first half of their race. If you honestly think you ran 30 miles, I hope you have GPS data to show the race director from where you went off trail.

    Nevertheless, I'm still impressed that you ran this race as your first marathon. I think finishing in one piece is a great accomplishment, and I'm sure you'll become a stronger runner as you enter more races.

  11. Thank you for this report. I was hoping to find some details event and course info, as I'm considering this for 2012... Great job out there! I wonder how you did in Chicago a couple weeks later? maybe that is in another report on your blog, I'll look for it. Thank you again for sharing.